Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: FOX Does OK in Las Vegas Despite Wind Issues

Las Vegas Motor Speedway can throw up a number of variables in regard to weather during the March race weekend. We’ve seen 90-degree weather in the past. There was a NASCAR Xfinity Series race that was red-flagged due to snow.

You can have perfect weather or you can have sandstorms.

Last weekend — while it didn’t see a sandstorm during on-track activity — featured some of the worst winds during a NASCAR race weekend in recent memory.

By Sunday (March 3), things had calmed down a little, but Saturday was brutal.

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The Big 6: Questions Answered After Kyle Larson Dominates in Sin City

Before we get going, some news regarding the future of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on television broke last week. The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand reported Thursday that Earnhardt has signed a deal that will see him join both Warner Bros. Discovery (via TNT and Max) and Amazon Prime Video’s NASCAR coverage starting in 2025.

That ends a bit of a saga for Earnhardt surrounding what he was going to do on TV since his previous deal with NBC expired at the end of 2023. There is a lot more to talk about about Earnhardt and his upcoming move (which none of the parties involved have actively commented on to this point).

We’ll cover the issue in a little more detail later this week.

Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

Sunday’s race will likely be best remembered for being a day in which Kyle Larson had the field in the palm of his hand. He won last fall and should have won this race last year if not for a late caution that drew everyone to pit road.

William Byron was probably the driver best suited to take the battle to Larson, just like last year. Then, a garbage bag that reportedly had a beer can in it blew onto the track and covered up the nose of Byron’s car. The broadcast mentioned that Byron’s water temperature reached 350 degrees before he pitted to have it removed.

That was lap 48.

Shockingly, Byron finished the race in 10th but spent the rest of the day trying to get his track position back.

That left Tyler Reddick as the man to take the fight to Larson.

It seemed like he was faster on worn tires than Larson and made runs to try to win all three stages Sunday. I’d argue that deviating from what worked for him in the last couple of laps was why Larson won (the booth agreed), but Reddick argued that Larson was blocking both lanes. That is what prevented him from winning.

Last week, I talked about FOX’s insistence on doing Crank It Up segments during rounds of pit stops under yellow. I have no idea who thought that this was a good idea, but they ran it back for a third week in a row. Why? This needs to stop. I know FOX likes its Crank It Up segments. It was considered excellent in 2001. There’s a time and a place for those segments and it’s not during stops. It just sounds dead.

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Despite Larson leading all but 86 laps Sunday, there was plenty of decent racing to be had. FOX did a decent job showing that action. You got a good amount of side-by-side racing, sometimes in split-screen.

That said, I did feel that it was relatively slow to report on pit issues.

For instance, the wheel nut issues for Bubba Wallace. He finished 13 laps down due to two separate issues removing wheel nuts. The first issue came out of nowhere and left me wondering, “How did Wallace end up way back in 35th?”

Any kind of reference to it on-air was slow in coming. The second issue required the 23XI Racing crew to cut the nut off, which cost over 10 laps. There was no video shown of these issues. I would have liked to have seen it.

The second issue happened just as Wallace got back to being only one lap down. With so few drivers off the lead lap (31 of 37 starters were on the lead lap at the finish Sunday), one false move by someone could have gotten Wallace back in the hunt.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief since the race ran past the 7 p.m. ET sign off.

As a result, viewers were treated to four relatively quick interviews with Larson, Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Ty Gibbs. Afterward, the broadcast quickly ended so that FOX could get to Family Guy. Since it was about 20 minutes late, viewers barely saw the first episode before it went to the second.

Coverage of the Ohio State-Iowa women’s basketball game on FOX (yes, the one where Caitlin Clark broke Pete Maravich’s Division I scoring record) ran long. As a result, there were only 16 minutes of pre-race coverage on FOX (the remaining 74 were on FOX Sports 1).

As compared to the first two weeks of the year, NASCAR RaceDay didn’t stand out. Likely the biggest standout feature on the show was where Blaney, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suarez were put together and asked to describe the finish in Atlanta. It was interesting to get that first-person account of the finish, but by that point, I was already finished with that finish since it was most of what was being discussed in the world of NASCAR over the past week. Doesn’t take away from what happened, but it was a little played out by Sunday.

The LiUNA!

Saturday (March 2) saw FOX Sports have to use alternate means to broadcast live coverage of The LiUNA! Due to the winds, the cameramen normally posted on the cameras were not allowed to take their posts on Saturday for safety reasons. It was far from just a Las Vegas thing as a decent chunk of the west was dealing with high winds. It was likely due to the same storm that brought feet of snow to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and shut down Interstate 80 for three days.

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: John Hunter Nemechek Takes the Win in Windy Sin City

The result was a broadcast that looked a lot more like the broadcasts we had in 2020 when NASCAR restarted the season after the COVID-19 lockdowns. Viewers did not have much in the way of high-angle cameras to choose from, which made a lot of things difficult to see.

Even cameramen who were stationed on top of small towers were forced to stay on the ground. Lest you think that this is a cop-out by FOX Sports, remember what happened at Notre Dame in 2010. Declan Sullivan, a student videographer filming a football practice for the team died when 50 mph wind gusts knocked over the scissor lift he was filming on. A few months later, the Associated Press reported that the university was found liable for Sullivan’s death by IOSHA, Indiana’s workplace safety watchdog group and was fined $77,500. It’s quite a bit more than some follicle-challenged men worrying about their toupees flying off.

As a result, robotic cameras did the majority of the work Saturday. Because of that, compromises had to be made. Robotic cameras next to the SAFER Barriers tend to work pretty well. They show the action well and prevent the need to put humans in harm’s way. The Joe Sikota’s of the world today would have to find other ways to be of use to broadcasts (and to make extra money).

However, they can’t move very much and there are only so many places that you can put the cameras. As a result, things that would be pretty clear were either outright missed, fuzzy, or only seen partially.

An example of this was the early incident involving Parker Retzlaff and Sam Mayer. The replay viewers got was from a speed shot camera exiting turn 4. You could barely see Retzlaff get loose and get hit by Mayer. The second angle was worse.

As compared to Sunday’s Cup race, the Xfinity race was significantly less exciting.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates John Hunter Nemechek and Chandler Smith combined to lead all but 27 laps of the race. They spent much of the day running off and hiding. There was some decent racing, especially for second in the closing laps between Smith, Cole Custer and Austin Hill.

With significantly fewer cameras available as compared to normal, FOX Sports was hamstrung on Saturday. Unfortunately, it really couldn’t do much about it unless it felt like unnecessarily putting people in harm’s way.

That’s all for this week.

Next week, the NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series will make their first visit of the year to Phoenix Raceway. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series West, which will hold a combination race Friday night that will start the West series season.

INDYCAR will start its 2024 season in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Formula 1 teams will make the 900-mile haul across the Arabian Peninsula to Jeddah to take on the dreaded Jeddah Cornische Circuit. TV Listings can be found here.

We will have a critique of the Cup and Xfinity races from Phoenix in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In addition, we will have some more reaction to the news of Earnhardt not returning to NBC this season later this week. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Friday night’s Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200.

If you have a gripe with me or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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sb

One of my beefs is about how quickly they run through to 21st thru 36th place cars. there is seldom enough time to actually read thru the placings before they move on. Makes it impossible to keep track of a car moving up or down as the race goes on. If they are going to do it, they should make it usable.

Bill H

I’m with you, partly, on Crank it Up. I dislike the feature under any circumstances, but I agree with you that it is utterly ridiculous during pit stops.

The coverage of Bubba Wallace’s problems was disgraceful. He is far to popular to be ignored that way.

Bill B

Come on… when Waltrip is in the booth crank it up is awesome. One minute where we don’t have to hear him.

CCColorado

Crank it up is stupid, just like most of the stuff Fox does.
Waltrip(s), Digger, Meyers, haven’t we suffered enough?

wildcats2016

LOL I can’t disagree with you CCColorado. Honestly Crank It Up is the least annoying of the things you list.

Christopher

While Fox production is still bad (and horribly stale…it hasn’t really changed in 20+ years), a word should have been said about the new booth combo. Harvick’s arrival has seemingly re-energized Mike Joy, who for the past few years almost appeared to be phoning it in. Harvick is really good at this and has added a great deal to the broadcast.

CCColorado

Agree wholeheartedly! He brings insight about the new car that ole Clint doesn’t have.
Joy is good, but every once in a while he tosses in some off the wall stat or past event that only old guys like me would
remember. LOL!

Christopher

I’m included in the ‘old guys’ category. I’ve been listening to Mike Joy since I was a teenager and he was the track announcer for modified races at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam MA and Stafford Springs Speedway about 50 years ago.

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